Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How-to-be-Sexier Sells

“Advertising conventions encourage the consumer to equate the quality of advertising with the quality of the product itself,” (Kirkham and Weller 268). Advertisers use many different ploys and techniques to sell their products. In particular, using sex is one of the most widespread methods. The cliché “sex sells” implies the use of individuals, items or language to inspire sexual connotations. However, advertisements do not have to merely insinuate sexual thoughts or desires to utilize the “sex sells” propaganda, but instead they can use techniques to show that their products will make consumers more attractive or healthy, making them feel more sexy. For example, the advertisements for prestigious clothing designers, make up, hair products and diet foods line the pages of magazines such as Cosmopolitan. These advertisements may not even use something that could be interpreted as sexy, but the products that they are showcasing all can be used to make someone feel or look sexier. Therefore, not only does “sex sell” in advertisement strategies but “how-to-be-sexier sells” in products exhibited.

In my collage, I focused on many different products whose advertisements did not exhibit a blatant use of sex, but instead provided underlying messages of self-improvement or how-to-become-sexier. The advertisements were all geared toward a female audience, although many of them could be seen as items to be used in order to appear sexier to men. According to Wolf, many of these advertisements were based on the beauty myth that is prevalent in our society. The beauty myth is something that defines what is to be considered beautiful based on men (Wolf 122). The beauty myth can be seen through recent phenomenon.

“During the past five years, consumer spending doubled, pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal. More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than they ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. Recent research consistently shows that inside the majority of the West’s controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret “underlife” poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein or self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control.” (Wolf 120)

Advertisements used in this project provided messages that are congruent with the beauty-obsessed notions presented by the beauty myth. For example, advertisements for products such as Lean Cuisine were found throughout women’s magazines, like Cosmopolitan. Even though these ads did not directly invoke the “sex sells” strategy showing scantily clothed females or depictions equivalent in sexual nature, the product itself implies a way to make one more sexy. The idea of losing weight, as stated by the beauty myth, is a common goal that many women possess to increase their sexiness. Advertisements for makeup also need not exemplify “sex sells” blatantly. According to Kirkham and Weller, “the woman reader can equate the beauty, sexuality, or pleasure she will achieve with the aesthetics and attributes of the product; with the sexuality of the (beautifully photographed) full, red lipstick and the softness of the baby-pink blusher” (271). Therefore, Maybelline eye shadow and Max lip gloss also rely on the beauty myth and rely on the insecurity of the consumers to want to become sexier.

Because of the beauty myth that is running rampant throughout society, advertisements need to use sexual undertones to lead females to desire their products. . Two advertisements that did not explicitly spell out their relationships to the “sex sells” advertising strategy, yet still implied relations to sexiness are the “now available in stiletto” cigarette ad and the “lose excess weight with chocolate” ad. The cigarette ad takes a product that is not usually advertised specifically to women and turns it into somewhat of a sexy symbol. Stilettos carry a sexy connotation with them, so associating a new type of cigarette with a stiletto is a way to make the cigarette seem more appealing. The phone advertisement also uses language to make a sexy association. It uses language to play on the notion of losing weight and being thin to influence one’s decisions on buying a phone. Based on the beauty myth, Verizon is trying to market the phone through incorporating ideas of sexiness.

The “sex sells” marketing strategy is widespread in this country, but the use of less obvious sexual innuendos and products that make someone feel sexy is much more pervasive in society. Advertisements can inspire someone to think of sexy implications even if nothing in the ad represents sex. Certain products, no matter how they are showcased carry with them the how-to-become-sexier idea. These products play off of the beauty myth, defined by Wolf, in which society has already determined what is beautiful and sexy. The cliché of “sex sells” in this country needs to be broadened in incorporate the more subtle sexual undertones or ideas of self improvement in order to make one sexier in order to fully grasp the use of sexuality in advertising.


Kirkham, Pat and Weller, Alex. “Cosmetics: A Clinique Case Study.” Gender, Race and

Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd Ed. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand

Oaks, California: Sage, 2003. 268-273.

Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Female Beauty. 120-125.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Boy Toys

The market for children's toys is largely dictated by the normative assumptions based on age and gender. Toy stores across the country market different toys to different age groups and genders which can be seen through the ways that the stores divide their inventory. Toy store websites, such as FAO Schwarz and Amazon, classify toys into "boy" and "girl" and offer a wide range of age groups in order to narrow searches for the stereotypical toys to meet the consumers' needs. Although there are some toys that do overlap between the genders, there are specific types of toys that are exclusive to either the "boy" or "girl" category. For example, various board games such as the game of Life appear on both the "boy" and "girl" section of the KB Toys website. However, other toys, such as model cars and Barbie dolls do not overlap ( Many of the toys that fall under the "boy" classification fit into three specific categories: violence, cars and sports in order to mold young boys into what society sees as a typical male.

The ways these toys are divided is largely dependent upon a system of social hierarchies that Lull defines as hegemony. In general terms, hegemony can be defined as the unquestioned and widely accepted power and dominance that stems from social stratification (Lull 61-62). These hierarchies are put in place to determine what is considered to be "normal" by society (Lull 62). In creating classifications that divide the toys available in different stores, the stores are adhering to hegemony. These classifications, along with the strong influence of the mass media provide messages "supportive of the status quo" converge ideologically to constrict children's visions of the toys that they should want (Lull 62).

Toys that have been specifically allotted to the "boy" section of both FAO
Schwarz and include such items as knight action figures, lego cars and spider man footballs. These toys each signify different stereotypes attributed to the normative boy between the ages of 9-11. Action figures, such as the Crusader Knight with Sword on Horse by Schleich found on, signify an interest in violence, aggression and war. The sword that comes with the Crusader Knight is a symbol of war and violence that sends the message to boys that staging battle scenes in the family room is an acceptable activity. Through toys like this Crusader Knight, aggression is advocated and associated with the male gender. The next typical category of toy found in the "boy" section is cars. The Ferrari F1 Fuel Stop by Lego and the Remote Controlled Wild Hopper are two examples of ways in which toy companies produce toys to fit the car section at the toy store ( Cars are associated with the male gender specifically because their mechanical makeup implies a need for maintenance and knowledge of technology and machines. It is unconsciously stressed to boys beginning at a young age that working with one's hands and possessing mechanical skills is important. The idea of working with one's hands is especially implicit in the Ferrari F1 Fuel Stop by Lego because the car is being built by the child.

The third category that falls under the "boy" section is sports. The fact that sporting equipment is typically marketed to boys can in part be described by "an overwhelming relationship between the construction of the masculine identity throughout boyhood and the participation of males in organized sports" (Messner 121). From a young age, because of the social hierarchies explained by Hull, boys are socialized to be interested in sports (Lull 62). In addition to societal pressures, family members, specifically fathers, brothers and uncles encourage young boys to become involved in sports (Messner 124-126). This is an example of "dominant ideological streams" being reproduced by the encouragement of the basic social unit of family (Lull 62). Toy stores feed into the hegemony, along with the "natural" feeling that boys should play sports (Messner 123). An example of this adherence to societal norms is the Hasbro Nerf Weather Blitz Spider-Man 3 Football ( This toy combines the classic assumption of boys' love for super heroes with the encouragement of their love for sports. The Spider-Man 3 Football creates a football that is intended to appeal to a wider audience due to its utilization of a super hero; it is intended to encourage more boys to become interested in sports and engage in athletic activity.

All of these toys are individual examples of the messages that toys attempt to send to their target audiences. The mere fact that toy websites are divided by gender and age is proof that the toy stores have deemed different toys to be more "appropriate" for these groups. Hegemony is applied to the toy industry through stereotypes about the normative child that falls into a given group. Many of the toys marketed to boys between the ages of 9-11 stress aggression and violence through war action figures and violent video games. Some emphasize the importance of mechanical skills and being able to independently construct cars and structures. Others focus on the importance of boys engaging in sports and athletic competition. Although the Spider-Man 3 Football is a perfect example of this, there are other more subtle examples that do not directly emphasize organized sports, but rather exercise in general ( An example of one such toy would be a Razor Scooter ( Even though it is not blatantly trying to push boys into sports, the message that is sent out from the scooter is that boys should be active, and enjoy playing outside. Although all of these toys may seem innocent on face value, each toy is designed to send a message to children. Each of these toys is marketed in a way to emphasize the normative roles that boys should be taking on now and in the future.


Extraordinary toys, girls, and collectibles at FAO Schwarz. FAO Schwarz. 2 October
2007. KB Toys. 1 October 2007

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd Ed.
Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2003. 61-65.

Messner, Michael A. "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of
Masculinities." Gender Socialization. 120-136.

Toys and Games. Amazon. 2 October, 2007.